Comments? Write firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2006, the Trail Blazers entered an era that would soon-not-be-forgotten. They acquired two future All-Stars in that year’s draft, swapping picks in deals with the Bulls and the Timberwolves to somehow end up with the two best players in what turned out to be a very weak draft. Those two players would combine for 10 total all-star appearances and 6 all-NBA teams. In 2007, the Trail Blazers would garner the #1 overall pick in that year’s NBA draft and select a game-changing talent. Unfortunately, he would only play a total of 82 games over two seasons with the team. The team as a whole struggled with injuries and consistency. What could this trio have accomplished if they had stayed healthy and played together for an extended period of time? Looking back at history, if this team was fully healthy they could have been a dynasty for years to come that would have challenged the other up-and-coming young teams of that era such as the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Warriors.
Brandon Roy was drafted sixth overall in the 2006 NBA draft by the Timberwolves, but the player that the they really wanted was Randy Foye. They knew that the Rockets, who picked 8th, coveted Roy and saw an opportunity to acquire additional assets while still getting the player they wanted; a tentative deal was in place for the Rockets to throw in Luther Head along with Foye in exchange for Roy. The Trail Blazers, however, also coveted Roy, and they thwarted the Rockets’ plans by selecting Foye at #7. This essentially force Minnesota’s hand into dealing with the Blazers, but instead of requesting a player, the T’Wolves took $1 million cash.
Roy became the Blazers’ starter as a rookie and went on to become an All-Star in his second season, averaging 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game that year. He went on to make the All-Star team two more times in his career. He was a show-stopping do-it-all shooting guard who captured fans’ hearts, Blazers fans or not. One of his most memorable moments was the game-winning buzzer-beater three-pointer to beat the Houston Rockets on November 6, 2008.
LaMarcus Aldridge also came to the Blazers via a draft day trade in 2006 after he was selected at #2 by the Bulls; the Blazers selected Tyrus Thomas at #4 and then flipped him along with Victor Khryapa for Aldridge and a future 2nd round pick. Aldridge blossomed into a seven-time all-star and was a master of the mid-post. In 2014, he had the best season of his career, averaging 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 46.6/35.2/84.5 percent shooting splits. He finished 10th in MVP voting that year, being in the conversation all season long. One of his most memorable moments came in 2013, trading big shots against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, ultimately getting the last laugh after hitting a buzzer-beating game-winning shot after hitting his first three of the season in back-to-back clutch moments.
Greg Oden is one of the biggest “what-ifs” in NBA history, not just Blazers’ history. He was selected first overall in the 2007 NBA draft and had the potential to change a franchise. Rather than selecting future MVP, 10-time all-star, 4-time scoring champion, and 2x NBA champion Kevin Durant, the Blazers decided to go with the 7-foot center out of Ohio State University where as a freshman he had led the Buckeyes to the NCAA finals against Florida. In that game Oden racked up 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks despite having to deal with two future NBA All-Stars and All-Defensive players in Al Horford and Joakim Noah.
The choice between the two prospects at that time was not as clear as it would become after the fact – most teams would have made the same selection had they been in the same position in that moment. Oden sat out his first year in the league due to a knee injury but in his first season playing in 2008, he played 61 games and showed flashes of his promise, including holding his own going head-to-head with Shaquille O’Neal when Shaq was on the Steve Nash-led Suns.
This talented and promising trio played together for a total of 62 games in the 2008-2009 season. The team’s record during that span was 50-12. The future looked bright and it seemed like the key building blocks were in place. So what happened to this trio that was seemingly destined for greatness?
Two words come to mind: consistency and injuries. When Roy won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007, he only played 57 games that season, which was the second-fewest ever for a winner of that award. When he was selected to be an All-Star the next season, he was selected as a reserve and played despite injuring his ankle prior to the all-star weekend. After playing two injury-riddled seasons, he underwent his first of many surgeries on his knees. In the preseason of 2008, Roy had to remove cartilage from his left knee. In the 2009-10 season, he would undergo surgery right before the playoffs due to a meniscus tear in his right knee. Due to the procedure, it was expected that Roy would miss the playoffs; he came back early, however, to help the Blazers win game four against the Phoenix Suns in the first round. This would prove to be futile as the Suns went on to win the first round in six games.
Aldridge had the most longevity out of the three players and had a game that could last even longer. He played well alongside Roy and Oden, hence their insane winning record playing together. He complemented their games well, taking pressure off Roy on offense and being a defensive second anchor to Oden on the other side of the ball. However, it wouldn’t be until 2012 that Aldridge would make his first All-Star appearance. Despite having the skills to be at that level, he didn’t develop into an All-Star until after both Roy and Oden were out of the picture. He didn’t eclipse 20 points per game until the 2011 season and would start bumping all his numbers higher after 2012, the year he made his first All-Star team.
In his first season in Portland, Oden played 61 games. For a rookie, that’s a decent amount of games and fair for a bruising big man in that era’s game. He racked up totals of 540 points, 424 rebounds, 31 assists, 25 steals, and 69 blocks in that time, giving a taste of what he could offer this league. While playing with Roy, Oden averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in the sample size of 21 games in the 2010 season. He was offering consistent offense and defense for his squad, however, it was his availability that wasn’t consistent. However, by his numbers, the praise he got from his teammates and the eye test in limited time, it was clear that Oden had the potential for so much more.
To even land Oden, the Blazers needed a miracle. What they had instead was plain bad luck. After going 32-50 in the 2006-07 season, the Blazers had a 5.3% chance of landing the #1 pick of the draft. After Roy won Rookie of the Year that season, the Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard convinced him to fly out to the lottery and represent Portland to be their good luck charm. Roy didn’t enjoy flying or traveling in the offseason, but still he reluctantly went. When the odds rolled in the Blazers’ favor, that’s when Roy realized he might just be thei good luck charm.
In an interview with Michael Porter Jr., a current NBA player and Seattle native who was coached by Roy in high school, Roy discussed how he thought he that winning a championship was within the realm of possibility:
“For the first time in my life, with him, I felt like we could win a championship. He was that good.Having him on the team, we had everything we needed to win a championship because he filled a lot of those holes” Roy said.
Roy talked further about how his own game changed because of Oden’s presence and ability on both ends of the court. His confidence skyrocketed because he knew Oden would be able to cover the offense and get the boards, so Roy started to leak out and work more in transition than he ever did prior to playing with Oden.
Roy wanted the world to know about Oden and what he could have brought to the league.
“He was a special player. I hate when people try to say stuff. He was injured…He had Hall of Fame talent…I just wish the world would have got a chance to see that.” Roy said. “He makes the game so damn easy. Me and LaMarcus had to figure out how to play with him because when he’d get post touches, they’re doubling so we’re more open and we’re not used to being open.”
Roy had the offensive talent to be one of the top scorers of all time. In an interview in 2010, the late Kobe Bryant mentioned Roy as being one of the most difficult players he ever had to guard. In 5 seasons with the Blazers, despite playing through chronic knee problems, Roy averaged 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while shooting 35% from three point range.
Aldridge’s career had the longevity; for years he was a consistent force on both ends of the court. There was a 10-year span in the middle of his career, from ages 25-34, where he averaged 21.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game over 705 games and was named to 5 All-NBA teams.
Had Oden not had injuries riddle his career and had been able to reach his full potential, he likely would be have been perennially battling Dwight Howard for 1st team all-NBA consideration and eventually been regarded as one of the greatest big men to ever play in the NBA. Oden was the last top-level NBA to undergo the controversial microfracture surgery, which was originally considered an innovative procedure to develop new cartilage but as of 2014 was no longer recommended for elite-level athletes. Oden had 3 of these surgeries on his knees over a 5-year period, and his size and and weight affected the effectiveness of his rehabilitation and made it that much more difficult to have any chance at a full recovery. Now he is just another on a long list of past players who had their careers derailed by injuries that would likely be more successfully treated by modern medicine and rehabilitation.
It’s safe to say that if it hadn’t been for constant injuries and bad luck, this Trail Blazers team was destined for greatness. It’s a loss for basketball fans to never be able to see this team develop into what it could have been.